Stagnitos New Products Magazine

Stagnitos New Products Magazine

Flavor Game

August 2005

Beverage Category flavors are forerunners of trends at large

The beverage category is a dynamic arena, wherein consumers are willing to experiment through new products and new concepts more readily than in other categories. This willingness to try new products makes the beverage area a playground for new flavor concepts- often a flavor trend may debut in a beverage before crossing category lines into other applications.

“As opposed to ‘staple foods,’ the beverage area- like snacks- has always been a category that consumers view as a place to get some fun and enjoyment from the flavor experience,” says Steve Fowler, director of beverage applications at Mastertaste Inc., Teterboro, N.J. “Beverages are products that people look to for refreshment value, and with which they are more willing to experience new taste sensations.”

Watching the flavor trends that manifest in beverages and tracking whether they take hold of the consumer imagination can yield a good indication for flavor mainstays. And interpretation of flavor performance in the beverage category can also help with flavor forecasting. It’s an area that provides a wealth of trend and consumer flavor preference information that can translate across the food industry.

Technical Difficulties

Of course, there are limits to the types of flavors that can be used in beverage applications.

“There are flavor sensations that are easier to present in either an acidic or neutral pH range because of inherent aspects of the flavor,” says Fowler. “Examples are chocolate, which naturally goes well within a neutral pH range, and lemon, which naturally goes well in the acidic pH range. Although these flavors can be presented outside their traditional pH ranges, it takes some formulating wizardry to successfully pull it off.”

Beverage environments are classified as acidic or neutral depending upon their pH. And other components within a beverage system also affect what types of flavors work in the beverage formulation. For example, the proteins in a soy-or dairy-based drink mean that an acidic version of these beverages would be very difficult to stabilize. While such products can be stabilized with much effort, they present a more complex matrix than simpler beverages like fruit drinks and traditional carbonates.

Trend Watch

When it comes to trends that are exhibiting in the dairy category, the flavor trends vary by beverage type and refreshment occasion. The most prevalent common denominator is that consumers seek beverages for instant refreshment gratification, also termed “gulpability”- and flavor satisfaction.

There are some overarching trends worth noting. The biggest umbrella trend in beverages is an echo of the increased popularity of the flavors from Latin cuisine.

“There is the well-publicized increase in the size of the Hispanic segment of our population, and a corresponding increasing interest in Mexican and other Latin cuisine flavors by the non-Latin population during the past few years,” says Fowler. “This trend does not seem to be abating.”

Category by category, several other trends are evident in select beverage types. For example, in dairy beverages, the health halo seems to be driving popularity of dairy-based beverages paired with fruit, particularly in smoothie-type products. The fruit flavors that are proving popular include peach, lemon, orange, lime, apple, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and the berry fruits in general. Tropical flavors are also trendy, often in combination and named “tropical,” but also individually such as mango, passion fruit, key lime and pineapple. Another interesting trend in the beverage category is the recent advent of high proof spirits with added flavors, such as citron, melon, raspberry, apple and the like.

In coffee, the indulgent and decadent trend is the main flavor showing, with caramel and vanilla flavors being popular in grab-and-go coffee drinks. In the RTD tea area, an area of growth in the past two years has been in white teas, which are usually presented in combination with other flavors. Peach flavor in particular is a popular accompaniment to white teas. RTD tea beverages that are green tea-based are also experiencing popularity and growth, and these green teas often have citrus or berry flavors as popular flavor pairings.

“One of our best-selling teas is green tea tropical. The beautiful taste of this tea is created by the flavors of mango and pineapple being fused with green tea,” says Gary Shinner, president [sic] of Mighty Leaf Tea Co., San Francisco. “White tea is becoming more popular now because of its health indications- because it is not oxidized, white tea may be even healthier than green tea. So Mighty Leaf has a new white tea with melon and peach, and this lighter, fruitier tea seems to be what the market is seeking.”

The spicy flavors in tea are also becoming popular flavors in beverages at large. The chai trend has certainly crossed outside of being relegated to the tea itself, and now chai is a “flavor” in other beverages- whether they be dairy or soy-based, or other grab-and-go type single serve beverages. The spicy, sweet chai profile that includes cinnamon and cardamom and sometimes nutmeg has also led the way for the emergence of the new beverage trend that is maté. 

“A new blend being seen as a tea is the rainforest tea maté, which is from a South American herb usually from Argentina or Peru,” says Shinner. “This drink is a type of caffeine drink that is unique in its caffeine derivation, and also therefore in its flavor profile, which is interestingly different and spicy. We have a maté product that we pair with some spices from Bombay Chai and some fruits to deliver a spicy fruit flavor profile that consumers love.”

And another flavor trend being seen in tea right now is the popularity of Rooibos, which is an African herb that imparts the fullest flavor from any herb (meaning non-caffeinated, as opposed to tea or maté). The flavor of Rooibos is said to emulate an herbal version of a cup of coffee, with its fullness, slight sweetness and lack of bitterness or sharpness.

What is interesting about flavor trends in tea is that tea is starting to be infused into food products as a flavor itself. Tea has been seen within chocolate and confections, as well as in some energy and snack bars, but also on menus as a flavor in marinades or seasonings. Tea is one very innovative example of how beverage flavors are crossing from the category and translating an entirely new way.

“What we hear over and over from our consumers is that when it comes to enjoying our tea products, they appreciate the flavor mélange, not just any single ingredient,” says Shinner. “We create a complexity of flavors in each one of our teas, so each has its own stamp. This has proven to be the key to our success in hitting a strong core of consumers across the market who are very interested in the flavor blends that we offer.”

Other innovative flavor trends in beverages overall include flower and blossom flavors such as jasmine, rose, lime flower, elderflower and orange blossom. Although flavors that impart a heating or cooling sensation are often identified as “innovative” and “trendy,” these type of flavors rarely become mainstream or grab a strong hold in the beverage market.

“During the past couple of years, we’ve seen the emergence of pomegranate as a ‘health image’ flavor because of the antioxidant value of the fruit juice. Dulche [sic] de Leche is a flavor that hits multiple trend factors as an indulgent ethnic flavor. Both of these are examples of riding trends and being innovative,” says Fowler. “Aligning with a well-publicized trend is key, but the bottom line is that consumers are not willing to compromise on taste. In the beverage category, if a flavor is going to break out of just being a ‘niche flavor,’ it must be pleasant and refreshing and ultimately satisfying.”